In-person exchanges were one of the areas most affected by China’s three-year-long self-imposed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The long absence of face-to-face meetings at all levels gnawed away at the mutual understanding between Europe and China. It is therefore very welcome that in the lead-up to the first in-person summit in four years between the European Union (EU) and China this December, seven EU commissioners visited China in the space of only two months.
The European Chamber has also taken the opportunity presented by China’s re-opened borders to re-engage with stakeholders in Europe. In late October, the Chamber organised its second EU Tour of 2023. During a highly productive and fruitful five-day visit to Brussels, the Chamber’s delegates took part in 56 meetings with European stakeholders.
As both the number of recent, high-level visits and the Chamber’s engagements in Europe indicate, China remains high on the EU’s agenda. However, European stakeholders are increasingly voicing their concerns over the high bilateral trade deficit and China’s overcapacity.
Discussions on de-risking have also intensified. While the EU has emphasised that its de-risking efforts are country-agnostic and aimed at increasing the resilience of its unified market, in China, de-risking has been publicly criticised‘decoupling in disguise’. Meanwhile, China has itself engaged in a significant de-risking process, as can be seen in its drive for self-reliance across many sectors. To find viable pathways forward and strengthen cooperation in areas where interests align, there is a need for Europe and China to find a common language on the topic.
The relationship between Europe and China has created enormous value over past decades, and carries significant potential for the future as well. It is in the interests of the two sides to find an appropriate and equitable balance in terms of the benefits flowing to both Europe and China from the mutual engagement, thereby enabling a long-term flourishing relationship. This will require building trust and addressing concerns on both sides, particularly in relation to imbalances in terms of trade, market access and national treatment. The European Chamber intends to continue to engage with both sides in order to keep playing a constructive role in this process.
 Related figures mentioned in speeches delivered during by several EU officials during their visits to China. For instance, EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said that “between 2002 and 2022, the trade deficit of the EU towards China in goods has increased from EUR 41 billion (bn) to EUR 396 bn”, while High Representative Josep Borrell highlighted that “[o]ur trade deficit has gone up by 60 per cent in one year: a considerable rise, which cannot simply reflect a productivity gap between our economies”. In the geopolitics of blocs, Europe as a power of balance – Speech by Commissioner Breton, European Commission, 10th November 2023, viewed 16th November 2023, <https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_23_5684>; China: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at Peking University, European Commission, 13th October 2023, viewed 16th November 2023, <https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/china-speech-high-representativevice-president-josep-borrell-peking-university_en>
 Xinhua Commentary: De-risking is just decoupling in disguise, Xinhua,26th May 2023, viewed 16th November 2023, <https://english.news.cn/20230526/f534dc97c66f43e98b1a7642d07221c8/c.html>